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Trump Fires FBI's James Comey; Trump Meeting With Russia's Foreign Minister; Trump Fires FBI's Comey; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee making some important points there. One saying that she is calling for a special prosecutor which we would expect. Another thing that she did is she said that she's working with her fellow Democrats in the Senate on legislation that would bring back the special counsel law, something that lapsed in 1999 that was used namely under the Clinton administration, for one, to point Ken Starr.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, remember Ken Starr and also during the Iran contra -- Iran contra as well.

We still have former U.S. attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, with us right now.

Look, you were answering the question about the contact that Donald Trump, the president claims to have had with James Comey where James Comey allegedly, according to the president, told him three times there's no investigation into him, the propriety of that, and also comment on that, please. But also whether or not you think a special prosecutor would make things better at this point.

ALBERTO GONZALEZ, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, first of all, including in that letter it seemed totally inappropriate, quite frankly. And if in fact there was that kind of communication it would have been inappropriate for James Comey to have offered that information and that would be a sufficient basis to remove him as FBI director, but it also would be inappropriately, quite frankly, for the president to be asking. He should know better than to ask the FBI director about an ongoing investigation.

With respect to a special prosecutor, what I worry about is that this -- you know, the whole issue of this investigation and the swirl around the FBI director and his public comments and testimony and now his removal has created this kind of cloud that I do worry about whether or not we can -- whether or not a new FBI director can restore the integrity and confidence of the American people into the investigation by the FBI.

I think that we can certainly get there, but I worry about the public perception and it may be that what we need is some kind of independent, you know, commission or a special counsel, someone that is removed from this and restores the credibility of the work of the Department of Justice as a general matter.

HARLOW: Look, it's a very important point, General, and it's one that Senator John McCain just made this morning to our Manu Raju, actually saying that he doesn't think an independent prosecutor goes far enough. He's calling for a special counsel. You could have one just made up of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, or as John was pointing out earlier, you could have a 9/11 Commission-style council where you have lawmakers and then you have independent voices, as well, part of it.

(CROSSTALK)

GONZALEZ: Well, you know --

HARLOW: What would make them --

GONZALEZ: I work directly with the 9/11 Commission. I spend hours upon hours dealing with the 9/11 Commission. They were extremely thorough and extremely professional, and I think at the end we were generally pleased with the outcome and I think the American public and the Congress was generally pleased with the outcome of that -- the work of that commission so a lot is going to depend upon the members of the commission, the cooperation of the administration but obviously I think that's an example of something that might be appropriate in this particular case.

HARLOW: Interesting.

BERMAN: Alberto Gonzalez clearly open to the idea it seems to some kind of independent counsel or commissioner or something to look into this. Thanks so much for being with us, Attorney. Appreciate it.

GONZALEZ: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: All right. The Russian Foreign minister inside the White House right now meeting with the president of the United States. This was his arrival just a few moments ago, and all of this is happening in the aftermath, sort of the shock, the collective shock of the firing of FBI chief James Comey. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:37:53] BERMAN: All right. President Trump is meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a closed Oval Office meeting. This is happening right now. This is obviously his highest- level meeting with a Russian official since the inauguration. And it comes just hours after the president fired James Comey who has been heading up an investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.

The Foreign minister met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this morning and they were there discussing Ukraine and Syria among other things.

HARLOW: And you're going to have to listen to this moment when the press asked Lavrov his response to James Comey being fired overnight. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks?

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Was he fired?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

LAVROV: You're kidding. You're kidding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: There you have the Russian Foreign minister making a joke of it.

Let's talk about this. We're joined by Kimberly Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst, and senior national security correspondent for the "Daily Beast," David Rohde, CNN global affairs analyst and national security investigations editor for Reuters, and Steve Hall is also with us, retired chief of Russia operations and a CNN national security analyst.

David, what's your response to that as the president gets to meet with Lavrov today, the Russians make a joke over Comey's firing?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, they're laughing. I mean this is about the rule of law.

BERMAN: Literally.

ROHDE: Yes. You know, and I -- I don't want to overstate it. You know, Lavrov, you know, laughs so this is Russia's view of the importance of this investigation. But again for the American public and politically for President Trump, this is a terrible sort of image and who was staffing him when he makes this announcement last night, fires Comey, and the very next he's meeting with the Russian Foreign minister?

BERMAN: Well, what about that, Kimberly Dozier? Because, look, you know, obviously the calendar, it's a problematic calendar. David is right here. But on the other hand, if Sergey Lavrov is in town you've got to meet with Rex Tillerson and there was this outrage when Tillerson was in Moscow and not scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin. So should the president be meeting with Lavrov albeit under, you know, this awful timing?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, he's here and there are things to be discussed like this plan that the Syria -- that the Russians have agreed with Turkey and Iran for de-escalation zones which would stop some of the fighting and violence in Syria.

[10:40:10] So it is an opportunity to discuss that face to face, but let's be honest, until these investigations are over, every single interaction between this administration and Russia is going to be problematic. Timing from yesterday to today? Yes, awkward, and I don't see how you get around that.

HARLOW: So, Steve Hall, overnight you wrote, "Interesting that POTUS first goes after CIA. Now FBI. Is NSA next? Intel trifecta?" What do you mean?

STEVE HALL, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It just struck me when I tweeted that last night that, you know, this is an interesting pattern that appears to be developing with this administration, and it seems to me to be, you know, when you get bad news, whether it's from CIA or whether it's from the FBI in terms of the ongoing counterintelligence investigation, you know, that perhaps you take measures to, you know, against those organizations to change things.

You can have a discussion here in the United States as to whether or not Director Comey's removal is going to impact that counterintelligence investigation which is being led by the FBI, but I can tell you there's no doubt in the Kremlin, there's no doubt on Vladimir Putin's mind that this is a good thing. It's a good day for him because this -- in his view, that slows down, Comey's firing slows down this investigation and that's a good thing.

BERMAN: Yes. Maybe, you know, the answer to the question of why is this man laughing about Sergey Lavrov.

David, to you, you know, you were deeply sourced in the intelligence community and also in the congressional intelligence community here. What were the relative roles of the FBI investigation versus the congressional investigation? I want to get to the impact of this move.

ROHDE: So the FBI investigation is by far the strongest, most serious investigations. There was talk of 100 agents. I just looked at the numbers. There are currently -- the Senate investigation is the stronger one. There's only nine staffers working on this investigation. That compares to 46 staffers for the Republican investigation to Benghazi. There were 88 staffers to the investigation of the faulty WMD intelligence and the invasion of Iraq. Iran-contra 181 staffers, Watergate, 133.

Nine staffers.

HARLOW: Nine.

ROHDE: They're making very little progress. They have issued no subpoenas. Democrats have wanted to subpoena Trump's tax returns to see if there's business ties to Russia. Republicans have blocked that. So the Hill investigations, I'm sorry to be blunt, are sort of a joke. And that's why this is so serious. And the FBI was the most serious investigation.

HARLOW: And that's why it's so important, one of the many reason why it continues on the FBI side.

Kimberly Dozier, do you think that whomever the president, you know, nominates to be the next FBI director, you know, is going to get him through, most likely. He only needs 51 votes to do that. Do they need to recuse themselves, though, from this Russia investigation because it includes the president and they're being appointed by the president?

DOZIER: Well, the thing that I'm hearing from people who are thinking about taking the job is, how can you take the job unless you're going to seriously pursue this investigation rather than recusing themselves? In order to restore faith in the FBI you need to see someone take the post who's going to follow it through, and also think back to -- I'm thinking about Russia's reaction watching all of this. If the original meddling was to throw the election in disarray, look what they've continued to do with that campaign last fall and last year.

This is turning different sides of the government against each other and making many Americans question, is the president firing someone because he has something to hide?

HARLOW: Guys, thank you very much. We have to leave it there, Kimberly Dozier, David Rohde, Steve Hall.

Still to come for us, President Trump tweeting this morning that people will be, quote, "thanking him" for firing James Comey. Well, what does Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager have to say about that? He called for Comey to be fired just a month or so ago. He's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:48:25] BERMAN: All right. No comment from Hillary Clinton this morning about the firing of FBI director James Comey, but she did have some choice words about him last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28th and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me, but got scared off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Joining us now is Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager. It is nice to have you here. You have been busy following this, tweeting a lot about it, but I'm really interested in your first sort of guttural reaction last night when you looked up, you saw the news or you saw the tweet or you saw this headline?

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Well, you mentioned tweeting. I mean, my first tweet on this was that I did not think this boded well for the Russian investigation. That was my immediate concern and particularly the fact that this firing happened literally on -- at the same time that we were learning that subpoenas were being handed down with regard to the Russia investigation, and over time that concern has grown into a deep fear that the fundamental tenets of our democracy are breaking down here. The president is not allowed to be above the law. This is the third

person who is investigating him or his associates who has been fired. You had a New York prosecutor, you had someone in the Justice Department and now the director of the FBI himself, and what's scary to me is that the president is trying to convince everyone that he was doing this on Hillary Clinton's behalf which is just laughable.

[10:50:06] And to me if Congress doesn't act immediately the Russians will not just have undermined our electoral process, the media, they'll be undermining our justice system as well and we've just got to draw a line.

BERMAN: So, Robby, you know, there were plenty of Democrats last year during the election who were extremely critical of James Comey and there were Democrats who called for his removal, Harry Reid among others, at one point during the transition over how he handled this investigation into your former boss Hillary Clinton. You actually went further, you in March called him to step down because of the Russia investigation. You tweeted, "It's time for Comey to remove himself from this, too, his credibility is gone. So as recently as two months ago, Robby, you wanted him out not just for the e-mail thing, but for Russia. Why the change now?

MOOK: Well, and just to be clear I wasn't calling for him to step down from his job, I just said that he should recuse himself and I was saying that because I thought this matter wasn't safe in the hands of the Trump administration and it wasn't safe in the hands of Congress. And I think --

BERMAN: It was in the hands of James Comey. Was it safe in the hands of James Comey, the Russia investigation on March 2nd?

MOOK: The investigation that the FBI has been conducting and I don't know what the status was today, as your guest has said has been the most muscular, the most inquisitive and it's been happening so far, but I, frankly, think this has to be removed completely out of the FBI and anywhere near the Trump administration and it needs to go to an independent prosecutor, and if the Congress allows the Trump administration and the president to just steam roll them on this and fire the man who is investigating his associates, I don't know what Congress is there for. They're supposed to be an independent arm of government and they need to step up immediately.

HARLOW: Robby, if you felt like the man leading the FBI and leading this most muscular investigation into Russia could not do his job and arguably one of the most important investigations ongoing at the FBI right now, then why are you up in arms over him being fired? I mean, that was not your statement during the campaign. That was your statement in March.

MOOK: Well, what's scary about this whole process is President Trump keeps whittling down our standards. I was concerned about the way Director Comey handled the e-mail investigation. I was concerned that he wasn't doing enough on Russia, yet that was the best investigation we had going. They start subpoenaing associates of Donald Trump and of General Flynn who had to be fired over his connections to Russia, and like that, Donald Trump fires him.

We know that the New York prosecutor was investigating Mr. Trump's relations with the Russians. He all of a sudden gets fired out of nowhere.

What matters here is the behavior by the president and that he thinks he is above the law, and if you start inquiring into his business you will be fired. That's really scary and it's exactly what the Russians want.

BERMAN: We don't know exactly what Preet Bharara was looking into when he was U.S. attorney. We do know that the president asked him to stay on.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: And then he let him go.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: But I just want to tell you right now we're looking at Mike Pence, the vice president up on Capitol Hill right now, presumably to meet about healthcare but I imagine he'll get an earful on the FBI, as well.

Robby Mook, thanks so much for being with us. We do appreciate your time.

MOOK: Thank you.

BERMAN: Still a lot more going on. Again the president firing FBI director James Comey, the fallout, you're looking at it on Capitol Hill right now. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:57:28] BERMAN: All right. You're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill right now. Somewhere there you can see his white hair.

HARLOW: There you go.

BERMAN: The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence. He's moving around in microphone right now. We do not know if he's going to speak. He was on the hill to possibly cast some tiebreaking votes on some environmental bills that were up there. We do not know if he will speak about the dismissal of the FBI director.

HARLOW: As we wait to see if he does, let's go to Ryan Nobles who is on the Hill.

And Ryan, you just spoke to Senator Marco Rubio about this when he was asked very quickly last night after the news, he said, look, I don't have enough to really comment. What is he saying now?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, John and Poppy, we're really trying to get a litmus test here from Senate Republicans because they're going to be the ones that make the important decision as this FBI director search moves forward and then perhaps the opening to a special prosecutor when it comes to the Russia situation.

So we did catch up with Senator Rubio very briefly and asked him about both topics and this is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES (on camera): Do you think to the point now where we should have an independent prosecutor in the Russia investigation?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Not yet. I think we should wait for the Senate intelligence report to come out and then based on that we can make that determination.

NOBLES: Would you be open to it if it got to that point? If you --

RUBIO: Of course, but we're not at that point, and so I think we should wait for all the facts to come out via the intelligence committee report and then at that time that determination can be made.

NOBLES: Were you concerned at all with the timing of the president's decision on Comey?

RUBIO: I was certainly surprised by it. I personally didn't feel like Director Comey's performance rose to the level of dismissal, but I was surprised about the decision to make, I don't anticipate it would impede any of the work of the FBI.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So two important points there about what Senator Rubio had to say. First, he said that he would be open to a special prosecutor, but he first wants the work of Senate Intel Committee of which he is a member to finish and then if he believes that some more work needs to be dome he would be open to a special prosecutor, and secondly he didn't see anything in his mind that merited James Comey losing his job. So it's important to see how these Republican senators are reacting to this news of James Comey's firing because they're going to play a key role in this situation moving forward -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: Yes. Look, and the most important Republican senator, there is, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader has made clear he does not support any kind of special prosecutor or any independent commission to look into this and Marco Rubio not exactly rushing into it either so very significant development today.

Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

HARLOW: All right. Obviously a lot going on. You are looking at live pictures of Capitol Hill. The Vice President Mike Pence up there for a different reason to possibly cast some tiebreaking votes, but will he take to the microphone? We will see as our coverage right now with Brianna Keilar.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan.